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Roasting the Turkey

Keep it moist with these simple tricks

Fine Cooking Issue 60
Photos: Scott Phillips
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There’s a lot going on in the kitchen on Thanksgiving, so when it comes to cooking the turkey, I like to take a low-maintenance approach. My technique is fairly hands-off, except for an important step I take to make sure the turkey stays moist: I start the turkey off in the oven breast side down. Other than basting occasionally (to give the skin a nice brown color), that’s about all I do. See the recipe for specific roasting times and temperatures.

Roasting Made Simple

  •  Rub the turkey all over with olive oil or melted clarified butter; this helps the turkey brown evenly. (You can also use melted whole butter, but the milk solids might make the turkey a little spotted.) Sprinkle the turkey with kosher salt to help crisp the skin.
  • Start off your turkey breast-side down in a roasting rack; it will help the turkey’s natural juices collect in the breast, which tends to dry out otherwise. After roasting for 1 hour, flip the turkey breast-side up to finish roasting, using wads of paper towels to protect your hands. The marks on the breast from the rack will disappear as it continues to cook.
  • If your roasting pan will fit in your oven the long way, put the turkey in the oven with its legs pointing towards the back of the oven, since it’s usually the hottest spot and the legs tend to cook slower than the breast. If the roasting pan will only fit in horizontally, be sure to rotate it halfway through cooking so both sides of the turkey cook evenly.
  • If the turkey is browning quickly, but the temperature is still far from done, tent it with foil to keep it from overbrowning.
  • Always let the roasted turkey rest for 20 to 30 minutes, which allows the juices to redistribute.


You don’t have to truss, but the finished turkey will look better if you do.

1. Starting under the legs, draw a length of butcher’s twine up and over the legs.
Cross the twine between the legs …
…and pull the ends to draw the legs together.
Keeping the twine taut to pull the legs in toward the body, run each end over the thighs and wings and tie securely at the neck.

More turkey tips

• For extra juiciness, brine the turkey or buy a kosher turkey, which is already brined.

• I don’t stuff the turkey because I find it roasts more evenly that way. The dressing also seems to have fuller flavor—and a nice crust— when it’s baked separately. But if you do decide to stuff the turkey and the turkey is done before the stuffing reaches 165°F (the minimum safe temperature), spoon the stuffing into a baking pan large enough to hold it in a shallow layer. Cover with foil and finish baking while the turkey rests.

• Add flavor to the turkey by putting some herb sprigs and a quartered onion in the cavity (if it isn’t stuffed).  Or rub chopped herbs or herb butter under the skin.


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